Choosing a Platform

The core of any computer begins with the choice of a motherboard. The motherboard will determine what type of RAM, CPU, graphics, and other accessories can be used, so we need to take a look at the bigger picture before we get down to the selections. What we want is the best performance for every task, but unfortunately, there is no universal choice. The overall performance competition between platforms is often a draw, depending on the application used. That said, we have done our best to analyze the relative performance for several categories of use and come up with our platform selections.

For most tasks, AMD currently holds the lead - whether you want a budget CPU like the Sempron-754 3100+ or the all out speed of the Athlon FX, AMD leads Intel in pricing and performance. Unfortunately, there is one drawback with AMD right now, and that is the lack of shipping motherboards with support for PCI Express graphics cards. This muddies the water somewhat, and we'll address this more in the graphics card selections. That is really more of a concern for those interested in gaming, however. Software development has been an area that AMD configurations have dominated ever since Intel introduced the Pentium 4, and that has not changed. The shorter pipelines and lower latencies of AMD CPUs help them out a lot in compiling, not to mention the "free" support for 64-bit computing for those willing to use Linux or the Beta XP-64 OS. Content creation remains a strong point for Intel, which means that it is basically a draw with AMD. If you do a lot of audio or video editing, and depending on the choice of application, Intel's Pentium 4 can still come out on top.

One rather gray area for debate is the multitasking performance of the platforms. Raw benchmarks do not always reflect the actual user perception. A typical benchmark will max out the processor usage for the duration of the benchmark and then report a final value, whereas most users pause frequently during their use of a computer. What we really tend to notice is when we actually have to wait on the computer. For example, if you are encoding MP3s or a video in the background while you surf the web, you will find that web pages tend to load slower than normal. That is to be expected, but how does something like Intel's HyperThreading affect performance? Our feeling is that HyperThreading helps to alleviate the perception of slowdowns in multitasking, while it may not actually improve benchmark performance. Remember that numbers do not always tell the whole story, and we'll leave it at that.

Let us reiterate that both AMD and Intel make very good processors that provide ample performance for all but the most demanding of users. The lead is often less than 10% in most applications, and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference in day-to-day use. If you have strong feelings one way or the other in the AMD vs. Intel processor debates, you could really choose either one and go away happy. We are providing baseline recommendations, but we leave the actual building and tweaking up to you.

Index AMD CPUs and Motherboards


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  • hh - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    > Very good. I am impressed. However, are we
    > going to see benchmarks in these anytime soon?

    Benchmarks are merely a tool to try to determine whats better/worse/"equivalent" for its price.

    And I do realize that this may be somewhat contrary to the general intent of the article, but we do have to recognize that DIY'ing falls into two basic motivational catagories: those who do it because they enjoy it (hobby) and those who want to save money vs. OEM (value).

    For the latter, it comes down to cost:performance. As a example, taking the $1250 system upgraded to the 17" LCD monitor and XP/P OS puts us at roughly $1500. Now suppose that we could get an "equivalent" system (performance) but someone else did the assembly, optimization and compatibility hassles, performed the OS installation, and gave us a warranty. Clearly, that PC build wouild be worth more, but how much more?

    One OEM example to consider is the Apple iMac 1.6Gz G5 17" at $1300 + 1GB aftermarket RAM upgrade +$250, which puts us at a $1550 pricepoint.

    For this example, the value-added extras of hardware assembly, optimization/compatibility/debug, the OS install and a system warranty is only $50 more. YMMV if this is small enough for many value-oriented people would be willing to pay for (IMO, yes).

    The remaining question is if such a $1550 OEM system is/isn't "equivalent" to the $1500 DIY system to conclude which is the better overall consumer value.

    And because of the Apple here, the "equivalency" question is a huge gaping hole. That's no accident: I did it on purpose because my intent is to look at this more rhetorically to as to illustrate the philisophical, not to introduce a Mac performance debate (so please don't). Yes, I could have chosen a Dell or Gateway, but I loathe their websites and they typically have too many hardware variables that would only drag us down into the weeds instead of seeing the basics of the big picture first.

    This article was interesting reading. Thanks again.

  • draazeejs - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    Why did they change the HDD recommendation from Seagate to Samsung? Does anyone have experience with how loud those drives are? I have a Barracuda IV, 40GB, and that one is totally silent. As far as I have heard the new Barracudas are much louder. Why is that so? Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    If the NEC ND-3500A lives up to the standards of the previous ND-2500A/2510A, then its likely to be the best drive in its class with standard firmware. The quality and value of those drives was unbeatable.

    Hacked firmware to add more media types or higher burn speeds with them is a nice bonus for those who want it, but is totally optional. The drives are still excellent straight out the box.
  • deathwalker - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    #28..I don't think recommendations for a Optical drive should be based on "hacked" firmware...I'm sticking with my original thought that the Pioneer drive would have seemed like the likely choice based upon there recent review..having said that though, I'nm sure the NEC drive is a fine drive also. Reply
  • MustISO - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    Looking at the memory chart, RAM is really going up. That sucks! Reply
  • iversonyin - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    logitech > MS when it come to mouse Reply
  • MIDIman - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    > The NEC is a little curious though, given the
    > glowing review of the Pioneer a few weeks
    > ago...

    I think the point here might be post hacked firmware. After flashing my 3500a, its quite incredible what its capable of, and its possible that anandtech has already done an NEC article and just hasn't put it up quite yet.
  • Murmandamus - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    Great guide!

    I'm considering setting up an HTPC. So I would sure like to see a htpc guide from you guys.

  • JarredWalton - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    Let's just say I have insider information from Kristopher. Blame him. ;) Reply
  • gherald - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    > #5 - Posted on Oct 21, 2004 at 1:34 PM by PrinceGaz wrote:
    > I've just finished reading it and amazingly, I can't fault any of your recommendations!

    I have to agree! In particular it's great to finally start seeing good case/PSUs from Antec and Shuttle.

    The NEC is a little curious though, given the glowing review of the Pioneer a few weeks ago...

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